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I Lost My Job: Now What?

When you're out of work, consider these six steps

By Ellen Breslau and

(This article appeared previously on

Being out of work is never easy, but it can be particularly difficult if you are over 50. While the unemployment rate for people over 55 is lower than for the rest of the work force (3.9 percent vs. 4.5 percent), older workers may spend a longer time being unemployed.

Before you careen down a path of doom and gloom, keep in mind that unemployment has a silver lining — it's an opportunity to assess where you are in terms of your career and what you really want to do. New opportunities can lead to a whole new outlook and career.

"I don't ever use the word unemployed," says Jean Baur, career coach and author of Eliminated! Now What? Finding Your Way from Job-Loss Crisis to Career Resilience. "It conveys a negative image that pulls people down." Instead she uses the phrase "in transition". "It means that you are going to go somewhere, your life is not over," she says.

If you find yourself in transition and not sure what to do next, consider these six steps to get you back on track.

Step 1: Throw yourself a pity party

The emotional impact of losing a job can be overwhelming. You can feel alone, embarrassed, and fearful of the future. The best thing to do? "Have a real sob-fest complete with ranting, raving, screaming, and yelling—if that helps," says career coach Jackie Harder, head of Key Dynamics Coaching & Consulting. "The point is to recognize the devastation you feel, experience it, and let it flow through you. If you block it or stuff it, it will just infect your life," she says. Have a pity party, get rid of the anger and hurt, and then move on.

Step 2: Make a list

"The first hurdle with people over 50 is that they have to understand their strengths as an older worker," says Baur. "Experience translates into being better with people, a better team player, knowing customer service, self-sufficiency, and more."

How to figure out what experience you have and what skills you possess? Sit down and make a list of everything you have done in your adult life. "Start with the work-related things, because you need to update your resume anyway," says Harder, "Then move on to community, fun stuff, and wrap it up with the dumb things you’ve done, like run out of gas on the interstate at 3 a.m. or gone hiking through the desert without enough water." The reason for this exercise is twofold: It will show you the breadth of your experience, which will make you feel better about yourself. It will also reveal the talents and qualities you possess, such as resilience and problem-solving skills. "Consider all the things on your list as transferrable skills that will help you in your job search," says Harder.

Step 3: Think about what you want to do

Instead of concentrating on the same job you've had forever, open your mind to new possibilities. Is there something you have always wanted to do but stuck with the same-old because it was a steady paycheck? "Give yourself permission to look in new directions," says Harder. "You have such an incredible amount of knowledge, wisdom and experience — use those qualities to do what you want to do, for a change, not what you or others think you “should” do. If you're not sure what your skills are suited for, consider seeing a career coach who can help you sort out your talents and experience.


Step 4: Find out what you need to know

Once you decide whether or not to venture down a new road, think about what skills you'll need for the job you're envisioning. Are there certifications you'll need or classes you'll have to take? "Older workers generally don't need to be taught as much, with the one exception being technology," says Baur. "When it comes to technology, older workers are at a disadvantage, but there are all kinds of free computer classes out there." If you need a technology tune-up, check out your local library or local department of labor, which often offer free classes.

Step 5: Get moving, and keep moving

The reality is that jobs for people over 50 are usually not found on online job boards. Think of how many people out there are applying to the same job on that job board, sending an application to an anonymous person. The better way to find a job is through networking and talking to people. If you think you have no network, you're wrong. Make a list of everyone you know, including friends, family members, former colleagues, religious group members—everyone. Then start taking people out for coffee and ask them a few simple questions such as how did they find their job, and what's their best advice for you?

"There are misconceptions of what networking is," says Baur. "It's not burdening people and dumping your resume on them. it's really about asking people for advice and hearing what they think you'd be good at." If you want to expand your network, look into joining professional associations, social organizations, and taking classes. There are women's networking associations, business associations affiliated with local chambers of commerce, and online resources like LinkedIn, that have a variety of alumni- and other groups you can join. The goal is to reach out to as many people as possible, since you never know who might have information on a potential job.

If there's a company or job you're interested in and don't know anyone who works there, "find out who the decision maker at that company is, and directly pitch them your skills and what you can do for them," she says. "That's called targeting and it gets around the process of blindly sending your resume, your age, and your salary."

Step 6: Set up a schedule and stick to it!

When you have a job, you have a structured schedule with tasks that need to get done. When you lose your job, that structure tends to go away, but it shouldn't. Think of it this way: your new job is to find a job. That means you need a schedule. "I tell people they need a four-hour daily schedule written down," says Baur. Consider the time between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. as your work day, for example. And in those hours you are going to do research, talk to people in your network, send out letters, and look for a job. "A job is not going to just come to you," Baur continues. "You need to schedule a minimum of 20-24 hours a week to get you back to work."

Once you complete all these steps above, follow up with people you've reached out to. It can be difficult and humbling since not everyone will get back to you or take your call, but keep at it. To stay organized, create a spreadsheet of all the people you've contacted, the dates you reached out, and any other important information. "Following up is where you get the good stuff," says Baur. "It's where you get to make your pitch and sell yourself."

Ellen Breslau Read More
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